MMA, a chemical considered to be toxic by the FDA, is still showing up in some Bay area nail salons.
TAMPA, Florida - It's a liquid used to strengthen artificial nails, but 10 News has found the chemical -- considered toxic by the FDA -- is still showing up in some Bay area nail salons, even though it's been banned for over a decade.
The chemical is called methyl methacrylate or MMA for short. Experts warn that when used in artificial nails, the chemical could cause permanent damage to your real nails underneath.
WARNING, GRAPHIC CONTENT: Pics show nails damaged by MMA
"Who would think you'd go in to have artificial nails put on, only to know when you take them off, you have some permanent damage to your nails," said USF Health dermatologist Dr. Neil Alan Fenske. "Women would come in and would finally take those nails off and their nail plate below it was damaged. Many of them had inflammation around the proximal nail fold and had permanent dystrophy."
The liquid hardener was first banned in Florida salons back in 2004. And yet 10 years later, state inspectors with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation say they're still finding evidence of its use.
Scroll down for a database of nail salon violations
"It is a violation, so we move forward with discipline on that," said Sandra Rentfrow, a sanitation inspector and program administrator with DBPR's Board of Cosmetology. "It's also a criminal offense. It's a second degree misdemeanor."
"It's unacceptable, simple as that, because there is risk to your patients," said Dr. Fenske of the use of MMA knowing its potential dangers.
10 News pulled inspection records for licensed cosmetologists across Tampa Bay and found a number of salons cited and fined for using MMA over the past three years.
They include Foxy Nails & Spa at Riverview, Pink & White Nails in Clearwater, J& L in Dunedin, Nails of Longboat Key in Manatee County and Regal Nails Salon & Spa actually located inside the New Port Richey Walmart. Apex Nails of Crystal River was also busted back in October of 2012, but is now under new management.
"That's from the old owner. They still have a little of the stuff they used before," said Apex Nails manager Kiem Luu. "After that, we never used it again."
Luu says his business now only uses products free of MMA.
But experts warn other salons may still be using the chemical as a cheaper alternative, even hiding the illegal nail hardener in bottles labeled "MMA free."
"They're using it, because it's a quick fix," said Doris Calhoun, a cosmetology instructor with Loraine's Academy in St. Petersburg. "The reason they're using it is lack of integrity. The consumer needs to just not be around it."
There is one easy way to tell if MMA is being used in your salon: it has an almost overpowering odor that will in many cases make your eyes water. If a salon is unable or not willing to show you the original bottle of liquid they're using on your nails, chances are there could be a problem. Complaints can be filed with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
10 News reached out to the other nail salons fined over the past several years for using MMA. J & L Nails has since closed its Dunedin location. Nails of Longboat Key management says they were unaware MMA was against the law when they were fined back in 2012 and have since discontinued its use.
We are still waiting for calls back from the other nail salons involved.
MMA is considered one of the most serious violations, but we found plenty of other problems in Bay are nail salons. Use our search tool below to find local nail salons in your area with violations. You can search county by county, or type in the name of your local salon.
*Only salons with violations will show up in our 10 News database.
Beau Zimmer, 10 News